The Notre Dame of Africa

The Cathedral of Notre Dame d’Afrique stands high above the city of Algiers, overlooking the sea. A mixture of Roman and Byzantine styles of architecture, with Moorish influences, it is a magnificent edifice built between 1858 and1872 when Algeria was occupied by the French. Notre-Dame d’Afrique can be seen conspicuously on a shoulder of the Bouzareah hills that stand two miles to the north of the city in the Bab-El-Oued district.

Currently 99% of the popualtion is Sunni Muslim with most of the remaining 1% being Protestant Christians of different denominations. Roman Catholic are the next demographically and number about three hundred in the city. The Christians mostly pray at the Sacre-Coeur Church and the Basilica Notre Dame d’Afrique.

Despite some extremist activity and the government coming down very strongly on conversion, the mosques and churches coexist in harmony in Algiers. In general the religious groups share an amicable social relationship and this has contributed to the religious freedom enjoyed by the minorities.

The church is a magnificent structure in sandcolored stone with several domes of differing sizes at different elevations. There is a detailing in blue along the upper edge of the structure from outside which hints at the Moorish influence. It has been described as “appearing from a certain angle like a giant camel on its haunches, contemplating the Aleppo pine- and eucalyptus-covered hills”

There is a statue of the Virgin Mary in black stone. The interiors are quite stark and the altar is very simple.On the wall behind it is a plain cross. A solid silver statue of the archangel Michel that belongs to the confraternity of Neapolitan fishermen also has a home in the church.

The constitution of Algeria declares Islam to be the state religion and “prohibits institutions from engaging in behavior incompatible with Islamic morality.” However registered, non-Muslim religious groups are allowed to conduct public religious services.

Conversion to Christianity is prohibited and though none is reported in Algiers, there are news articles that report about secret conversions in the Kabylie region. Unfortunately these articles are invariably carry pictures of the Notre Dame d’Afrique or Monsignor Tessier, the leader of the Catholic community in Algiers, both unconnected with the conversions. Perhaps the pride of the Algerians in this beautiful monument has fortunately prevented any unpleasant reaction against it.